Introductory Nostalgia


Newsletter of the Lute & Early Guitar Society Japan
Introductory issue. 9/2000

1. On the occasion of the start of the Society - Tatsuo Minagawa
2. Interview with Toyohiko Satoh
3. Some last words from the editor - Toru Sakurada

1.On the occasion of the start of the Society

“I hope it will be an opportunity to raise and deepen the standard of early music playing by Japanese.”

By the honourable president Tatsuo Minagawa

Recently, the standard of playing early European music by Japanese musicians has seen a surprising improvement. Not only can we now listen to as eminent music as if played by foreign musicians, but Japanese musicians give their wonderful performances in foreign countries too. It is a little strange to think that musicians from Asia, so far away from Europe, play the early music of Europe, but it is really happening. A reason might be that the Japanese have a music tradition which logic is totally different from that of European modern music. Therefore Japanese musicians have a stronger affinity towards early European music, which is different from modern music. The Lute and Early Guitar Society in Japan must present an opportunity to raise the playing of European early music by Japanese. I hope the Society will develop duly.

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2. Interview with Toyohiko Satoh

Toyohiko Satoh Toyohiko Satoh, the internationally active lutenist, founded the Lute & Early Guitar Society of Japan. He would like to see as many people as possible join, so we ask him to talk about the Society. It seems to be a society with a new concept, not just that of enlarging the joy of music for lute and early guitar.

With the collaboration of Minagawa-sensei and Kanazawa-sensei.

Interviewer: “The start of the Lute & Early Guitar Society is drawing near. Can you tell us something of the history of its making?”

Satoh: “I have been thinking for a long time about starting a Japanese lute society, but as I have been living in Holland for all these years, I have not been able to realise my plans.
Many years ago, at Rykyo University in Tokyo, Mr Tatsuo Minagawa taught me about the existence of the lute. In 1968 I went to Basel in Switzerland to study lute with Eugen Dombois, but I have always been in contact with Mr Minagawa, even after 1973, when I began teaching at The Royal Conservatorium in The Hague. He often played my records in his NHK radio program ‘Baroque Music in the Morning’. I think his contribution to not only lute music, but to early music in general, is unheard of. You must not forget that at that time in Japan the lute was practically unknown. In the 1970s I had a chance to meet Mr Masakata Kanazawa on tour in France. As you know, after Mr Kanazawa published Anthony Holborne’s collection of music for lute and bandora (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1967) he has contributed much more to the lute world.
With the aid of those two people I wanted to make a Japanese lute society, but I could not find the people who would be in charge of all the troublesome work. So, my plans were never realised.”

Interviewer: “Now that you have realised your plans for a Japanese lute society, will you continue to live in Holland?”

Satoh: “No, I will return to Japan within two years and live at Arao in Kyushu for good. But, even after that I will keep in touch with Europe. I will give workshops at the Royal Conservatorium of The Hague as a guest teacher, and I will make recordings and give concerts. But I feel my strength to keep on travelling around is limited.”

Interviewer: “What will be the aim of the Society?”

Satoh: “It will be a society to enjoy European culture in a broad meaning of the word, through the lute and the early guitar and their music. So, I hope not only professional musicians, but also lovers of music can enjoy many aspects of European culture.”

Interviewer: “Can you be more specific?”

Satoh: “We would like to offer the members strings, music, CDs and instruments as cheap as possible. We want to have instruments for rent and organise workshops, master classes and lessons all over Japan. We want to make it possible for beginners to try a lute or an early guitar without necessarily buying at a high price. We think we can do all of this partly because of my experience of living in Europe for a long time and through my contacts.”

Events which people who don’t play musical instruments can join.

Satoh: “But we also want to organise events which people who don’t play lute or early guitar can join. Such as a meeting of ‘Story and Music Concerning Shakespeare or Bocaccio’, a meeting of ‘Music around the French Revolution (19c guitar)’, a meeting to talk about ‘The Relationship between Paintings and Lutes and Early Guitars’, a meeting to dance ‘Renaissance and Early Baroque Dance’, a meeting of ‘Wine, Cooking and Music’ and so forth. In short: ‘Let’s get together and drink and eat.’ For wouldn’t it be nice if a workshop of western cooking encourages the communication between the members? That is why I also would like to offer Hungarian wine and Dutch cheese to the members of our Society. I studied how to make wine in Hungary, that is why I have good contacts there. For the last four or five years I even have been experimenting in making wine in Arao, planting two kinds of European grapes. But I am not sure it will be a viable enterprise. It seems difficult with the climate of Kuyshu."

Interviewer: “I know that you have many original instruments.”

Satoh: “Not so many, but I have a lute by Greiff from 1613, six 19c guitars by Panormo, Fabricatore and Lété and a baroque cello. And I have three copied lutes made of ivory. All of these instruments are in a good condition. I am planning to build a house in Arao in which we can have small events and perhaps a museum of my instruments, although it would be better if the instruments belong to the Society and would be kept and exhibited somewhere in Tokyo. Then we could even hire them out, under some conditions of course.”

Publication of a collection of music for beginners

Interviewer: “So far your plans sounds quite different from the activities of other lute societies. But is that all?”

Satoh: “Of course we are thinking of publishing music, especially a collection of lute music for beginners and modern music for lute or ensemble including lute. I would like to reissue important collections of music that are out of print now. For example the Japanese edition of the Holborne collection I mentioned before. And, naturally, we would like to exchange information with other lute societies in the world."

Interviewer: “How about those other lute and early guitar societies in the world?”

Satoh: “The oldest lute society is in England. I participated twice in their summer courses in the 1960s and had lessons with Diana Poulton. The next oldest one is the Lute Society of America. Like the English Lute Society, they publish journals that are full of research. Still now, I sometimes go there to teach. In America there was a society named the ‘Lute Seminar’, but they are no longer active. I went there to teach for ten years. Furthermore, there is a lute society in Holland. My students founded it in the 1980s. One of their impressive achievements was the international lute congress in Utrecht in 1986. A new one is a German lute society at Basel in Switzerland. It was founded only two years ago, but it is very active. This year it published a catalogue of modern pieces for lute. This is a revised edition of the one that I published in 1986 for the Dutch Lute Society. In addition to these, there are societies in some other European countries as well. There will be one in Hungary and maybe one in Poland and Russia."

Interviewer: “I hope we can work together with all those lute societies. Why does your lute society include early guitars, in stead of being just a lute society?”

Satoh: “As a matter of fact, I am already president of a 19c guitar society in Holland (‘Kraaijenvanger Fonds voor Historische Gitaren’). The 19c guitars are called romantic guitars in Europe. They are really lovely to look at: romantic and beautiful. For players they have the advantage that they are smaller than modern classical guitars, and their string tension is lower. So beginners can play it without having sore fingertips. Also to push the strings with the left hand without buzzing is easier for beginners. The right hand technique allows you to play without nails, unlike a modern classical guitar, which we cannot play really expressively without nails. It is well-known that Fernando Sor played such a guitar without nails.”

Interviewer: “You say you want to sell and rent out instruments. What instruments are you thinking of?”

Satoh: “Luckily, the Yen is strong at the moment, so we can order instruments relatively cheap in Europe. So far, the copy of my French Lété of 1828, made by Martin de Witte from Holland, is a success. It is not only very nostalgic and beautiful, it is also a wonderful instrument and it sounds well. It is true that copies of Panormo or Stauffer can also be ordered, but there are some Panormo originals available and as to Stauffer, they have complicated tuning mechanisms that we cannot copy so cheaply. Both Panormo and Lacote, too, will be more expensive just because of the tuning mechanisms. But most of the guitars before 1830 have wooden pegs, which makes them light, well balanced and elegant.”

Interviewer: “I know about this Lété guitar, it is really wonderful. But isn’t it too much trouble to tune with wooden pegs?”

Satoh: “Wooden pegs are no problem, because the string tension is so low, quite different from a classical guitar these days. A lute has by far more strings than a guitar, and once you get used to wooden pegs, there is no problem even with a lute.”

Interviewer: “Will the copy of the lute you will have on offer also be by Martin de Witte?”

Satoh: “Yes, for the moment a least. I think only those who become professional musicians or advanced amateurs should buy expensive instruments from makers with many more years of experience (e.g. Nico van der Waals, Michael Lowe, Richard Berg, etc.). As there will not be so many players that will want to buy instruments of these makers, I can even act as an intermediate if necessary.”

What we expect for the domestic lute makers and our plans to rent out musical instruments.

Interviewer: “Are you doing something for the domestic instrument makers as well?”

Satoh: “I think I should help them with advice, so that they can compete with the European makers. As to classical guitars, there already are very good instruments. So, if they can make good instruments, we can introduce them not only to the members in our own country, but also abroad. As for maintenance, the domestic instrument makers have an obvious advantage. So, the problem now is the taste for appearance and the balance between price and tone quality. I think it will be possible for the domestic lute and guitar makers to sell their instruments as well.”

Interviewer: “You want to sell all these instruments at a moderate price. How about renting them out?”

Satoh: “Yes, we also rent instruments to the members. If you are a beginner and if you cannot try a lute or an early guitar unless you first buy one, you may hesitate to do so. Because you think that perhaps you will stop a few months later. But if, for example, we rent you an instrument for three months, for ¥10.000 a month, and if you want to continue to play the instrument, then we will sell you the instrument. We will deduct the ¥30.000 you paid for the rent so far. If you want to change to another instrument and want to try that too, we will make that possible as well.”

Interviewer: “It is difficult to get strings for lutes and early guitars in Japan, what is available now?”

Satoh: “There are only a few lute string makers in the world. The oldest of them is Pyramid in Germany. Their strings are for sale in Japan. The next oldest is Savarez and their guitar strings are used in Japan for many years now. The copper wound strings that Savarez makes for the lute bass strings are good in tone quality and their flexibility is not too high. So we can use them soon after we put them on the instrument. But they have only a few kinds of gauges. And they have restrictions as to their length (they are for example too short to use as bass strings for arch lutes). These are the disadvantages. I mainly use these for bass strings for lutes in Holland. Gut strings have the best tone quality, attack and penetration, but in the Japanese climate they can only be used for the low strings on the theorbo or arch lute.

Sole distribution with Aquila and Kürschner

“Some years ago the Italian company Aquila started to make nylgut strings. These strings have the same density as gut for high strings and are nearest to gut in tone quality. They can be used for the high strings of the lute. Apart from this Aquila makes loaded gut strings. These are gut strings which they have increased in density by winding them in copper powder and which are treated with varnish (there are historical examples of these strings). They are most suitable for the low strings on the arch lute and theorbo. Furthermore, Aquila is developing a wound string that has a nylgut core and wound by a copper or a silver plated copper string. Besides Aquila there is another string maker in Europe, the German company named Kürschner. It is the most popular string maker in Europe. I use Kürschner’s wound strings mainly for the low strings of early guitars. They have a mild and good sound. They are also good for the low strings on the lute, but they have the disadvantage of being more flexible than Savarez, and they take time before the pitch becomes stable. Also, Kürschner began to make and sell nylgut recently. Our Society has the sole contract for both of these string makers. In Japan, I think you had better use carbon strings (Savarez, Pyramid, Kürschner) in addition to the strings I mentioned before. We are making an effort, considering the Japanese climate, so that people in Japan can enjoy the historic, nostalgic, romantic and delicate sound.”

Interviewer: “I hear it is difficult to get CDs too, when you are not in the big cities in Japan.”

Satoh: “So we will sell by mail as many CDs as possible, CDs with music for lute and early guitar and their ensembles. We already have had a business talk with Tokyo M-plus Company, which is the most active importer for this domain. Tokyo M-plus alone is not enough, but I hope we can get more connections. Of course, we will introduce domestic CDs whenever possible.”

Interviewer: “You are going to hold a concert ‘Dutch Music for Three Lutes’ in Ohmigakudoh in Tokyo Opera City in Shinjuku on November 28. That is the memorial concert for the beginning of this Society. Why did you choose this program?”

Satoh: “It is because this year falls on the 400th year of the Japanese and Dutch relations. And I thought it is better to have a concert while I am in Japan, because I still live in Holland of course. Furthermore, such a programme is rare, not only in Japan, but also in Europe. Although we are such a small Society, I hope we can plan concerts with really new programmes which have never been made before. By the way, I should thank Ohmigakudoh for their collaboration. And of course there will be a commemoration party after the concert."

Interviewer: “Thank you very much for this interview.”

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3. Some last words from the editor

“We are waiting for your information”

We are going to publish this newsletter four or five times a year. We will give detailed information about the instruments and strings in the next issue. We are going to publish ‘Satoh Toyohiko’s Baroque Lute Method’ from Academia Music. It is a revised edition in Japanese. Please enjoy! Our principle is ‘to enjoy European culture’ so we expect to organise pleasant happenings not only for those who are interested in lute and early guitar, but also for those who play other instruments or those from another field of interest who will join us. Now, everyone can join for ¥3.000. We are waiting for your applications. Please contact us if you have information or questions to the Society. Requests are also welcome.

Tōru Sakurada

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